Watford welcomed Tottenham Hotspur in what, a bit surprisingly, looked like the derby of the fourth round of the 2018/19 Premier League season. The reason was simple – both teams had won all three of their previous games bagging the maximum of nine points.
It may seem surprising when it comes to Watford, but the Hornets actually started last season in style too. They lost only one of their opening eight games in 2017/18 – to the eventual league winners Manchester City, while walking away with a point against Liverpool and all three against Arsenal in that time. Spurs on the other hand came into this encounter fresh from the destruction of Old Trafford where they tore Manchester United apart last week, having already beaten Newcastle and Fulham.
Javi Gracia, who had been nominated for the Premier League Manager of the Month award for August, couldn’t count on former Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley due to an Achilles injury. Nathaniel Chalobah and Gerard Deulofeu had only just returned from injury.
Gracia lined his men up to try and stop the Spurs’ onset in a 4-4-2, like this:
Ben Foster in goal. Centre-backs Christian Kabasele and Crag Cathcart flanked by Jose Holebas on the left and Daryl Janmaat on the right. Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure as the heart of the team helped by Roberto Pereyra and Will Hughes in wide positions. The power of Troy Deeney and the pace of Andre Gray were supposed to hurt the opposition from their forward positions.
Maurucio Pochettino was without the services of goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris, defender Juan Foyth and midfielder Moussa Sissoko due to different injury problems, while forward Son Heung-min hadn’t come back from the Asian Games.
In light of those hindrances, the Argentinian coach opted for a 3-5-2 shape and sent out the following men to storm the Vicarage:
Michel Vorm between the posts. Davinson Sanchez, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen at the back. Mousa Dembele anchored the midfield helped by Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli, with Ben Davies on the left and Kieran Trippier on the right providing width. Lucas Moura joined Harry Kane upfront.
The First Half
Spurs tried to stamp their authority on the game straight away, but Watford clearly showed they’d have none of it on their pitch. Within three minutes they entered Spurs’ box twice, but first Pereyra was caught offside and then Sanchez stopped Gray with a good sliding tackle. The visitors retaliated a minute later when Kane and Moura combined well in the box, but Watford also defended well early on. A dynamic game seemed to be on the cards.
The Spurs attacking duo worked better by the minute, and the home team finally conceded a portion of the pitch with five minutes gone. The game had slowed down slightly with Tottenham finally getting what they wanted – to move the ball forward and win space with relative ease, while Watford had to work very hard just to reach the halfway line.
Dele Alli had a fantastic chance in the 11th minute as Alderweireld found his run in behind with a superb pass from the back. The England international cleverly tried to lob Foster with a header from the edge of the box, not unlike the goal Robin van Persie scored for Holland against Spain in the 2014 World Cup, but on this occasion Alli couldn’t hit the target.
Watford came close seven minutes later after a rare longer attack when Janmaat’s cross found Deeney high in the air, but the striker’s header went over the bar.
Interesting how one such moment can influence the complexion of the game. Watford spent several minutes high up and looked more dangerous until a break from Moura and a foul on him by Hughes brought them back to earth. Moura broke into the box to latch onto a good through-pass from Alli soon afterwards, but Kabasele and Foster thwarted him with a joint effort.
The Hornets never looked harmless, however. Gray and Deeney, supported by Hughes, Pereyra and Doucoure, constantly reminded that they don’t need much to get going. But the Spurs back line was mostly superb.
The visitors had another chance around the half-hour mark. A good ball from deep by Eriksen almost found the foot of Sanchez, but as the defender failed to reach it Foster came out, fumbled and failed to recover under heavy contact from Kane. The ball was eventually cleared out of the box and fell for Moura to smack a long-range volley, but it went wide.
The game was now fully alive with the ball moving quickly towards both sets of strikers, but Spurs were mostly in control. They had the best chance of the half in the 37th minute when Trippier pulled a free-kick from wide right back to the edge of the box for Eriksen to shoot. The Dane’s shot was going slightly wide and Alli sprang to divert it in from a yard away, but he couldn’t make sufficient contact while the linesman’s flag was also (wrongly) raised for offside. Watford too had a few promising set-pieces but couldn’t make anything of them.
As the half approached its end, Spurs turned up the pressure. Alli and Sanchez both had a good chance to break the deadlock but failed. In the dying seconds a Watford counterattack ended with Deeney selfishly and poorly shooting from 30 yards, and the score remained goalless at the break.
The Second Half
Spurs continued where they’d left off after the restart, but they seemed a bit nervy. They pushed the Hornets back gradually, but misplaced passes in midfield forced the fantastic back three to come to their rescue a few times. Eriksen tried twice from range within five minutes but it wasn’t a problem for Foster. In the 52nd minute, Capoue picked up a yellow card for stopping a run forward from Vertonghen.
A minute later, Spurs were in the lead. A misunderstanding between Foster and Kabasele unexpectedly gave Moura a chance to put the ball in a dangerous position, and his sharp cross hit the retreating Doucoure in the chest and beat Foster.
It’s fair to say Watford put in much more effort from that point on. Pereyra hit the wall from a free-kick in a good position and Gray hit a sudden effort slightly over the bar from the edge of the box within a minute of each other.
But their energy soon fizzed out as Spurs used their quality and guile to gradually push them back again. The visitors were now in control and they could have doubled their lead in the 66th minute but Kane’s attempt to square the ball for Moura was inexplicably poor. However, less than a minute later the Hornets burst into life once again after Sanchez lost a physical battle to Deeney, enabling the Watford striker to put in a sharp cross from which Alderweireld hit the crossbar of his own goal.
But none were more uplifted than Deeney and in the 69th minute the score was levelled as he headed home from a good cross by Holebas.
Spurs tried not to let the setback affect their domination, but it was now a different story. Watford were winning all the duels all over the pitch. They controlled the ball and attacked relentlessly, not letting the visitors out of their box, until they managed to turn the game on its head.
In the 75th minute it was time for Cathcart to head home from a Holebas corner and the Hornets were in the lead.
Again Spurs tried to hit back, but their efforts now seemed forced somehow, unfocused, not fluent at all. Pochettino reacted by sending in Fernando Llorente for Alderweireld to add firepower upfront.
Four minutes from time, Kane again wasted a great opportunity for Spurs, this time by sending a header over the bar completely unmarked, six yards from the middle of the goal. An unbelievable miss for a goalscorer as proven as Harry Kane.
As the game progressed into a five-minute stoppage time, Watford resorted to keeping the ball in a corner. Isaac Success, who had come on earlier for Gray, and Deeney created a pair of frustrating minutes for Spurs in this way, which ended with Success picking up a booking.
With 60 seconds remaining, Spurs finally charged forward and Janmaat fouled Rose on the edge of the box wide on the left. Eriksen took a shot but Deeney diverted it out for a corner, after which Rose sent a volley sky-high and referee Andre Marriner blew the final whistle.
This game was a proper Premier League delight from a neutral point of view. A very good example of why it is considered by many to be the toughest league in the world. It’s the ability of a team like Watford to come back into the contest against an opponent of undoubtedly higher quality having gone a goal down, turn it around and deservedly win, that makes this league what it is.
It’s now four out of four for the Hornets, and they unexpectedly join Liverpool and Chelsea in maintaining a 100% record. Manager Javi Gracia will certainly be pleased with this excellent foundation to a good season at the Vicarage Road.
Meanwhile, it’s back to the drawing board for Pochettino. However, Spurs shouldn’t allow this defeat to hurt them too much in the long run. Three out of four is still a very good output, and they now need to make sure they lift their heads and go back to their usual winning ways in the next game. There’s one problem though – it’s Liverpool who they face next.
WATFORD: Foster 7, Kabasele 7, Cathcart 7.5, Janmaat 7, Holebas 8, Doucoure 7.5, Capuoe 7, Hughes 7 (85′ Chalobah N/A), Pereyra 8 (90′ Mariappa N/A), Gray 7.5 (70′ Success 7), Deeney 8.5.
SPURS: Vorm 7, Sanchez 8, Alderweireld 8 (81′ Llorente 6), Verthongen 7.5, Dembele 6.5 (86′ Winks N/A), Eriksen 7, Trippier 7, Davies 7 (89′ Rose N/A), Alli 8, Moura 7.5, Kane 6.5.
GOALS: Doucoure (OG) 53′, Deeney 69′, Cathcart 76′.
YELLOW CARDS: Capoue 52′, Dembele 68′, Success 90’+1.
RED CARDS: None.
REFEREE: Andre Marriner.
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